A Grassy, Wind-Swept Sandbox Full of Giants, Part One
So there have been some pretty big changes in my D&D game since the last time I posted about it. I want to bring my chronicle of the game up to date, but there’s a lot of ground to cover so it’s going to require several posts. So here’s part one!
The party did in fact defeat The Yellow Lady, mad priestess of Hastur behind the evil brewing in the Caves of Chaos, only to discover that she had in fact been the missing daughter of Duke Blakewell all along. Oops. >.> A tragic and somewhat downer ending to the scenario, but also completely in line with the kind of crap that happens when Hastur gets involved.
The players all wanted to continue, and after presenting them with the various options I was weighing the group voted for Storm King’s Thunder. So I said that with everything at the Keep being so awkward (“Sorry, m’lord, we kinda killed your daughter… but in our defense she tried to kill us first!”) the party decided to move on to greener pastures. They heard that Mt. Thunderdelve, over on the Silver Coast, had erupted, and decided to head over there to see what they could do to help, and maybe find some gainful employment on the way.
Unfortunately, here I hit a bit of burnout, and floundered for a time. Far from being something I could easily pick up and run more-or-less off the shelf as Red Hand of Doom was, I discovered that Storm King’s Thunder is an immense, sprawling, hot mess of an “adventure.” It’s not like a traditional module, so much as an enormous sandboxey “Build Your Own Campaign!” kit. Which is cool if that’s what you’re looking for, but at the time, that was so totally not what I was looking for.
Storm King’s Thunder as written covers pretty much all of northern Faerûn, and the Silver Coast wasn’t anywhere near that developed. I didn’t realize it then, but the monumental task of actually sifting through SKT from front to back and building a world that could accommodate all 256 pages of it while still being a world I liked and wanted to run adventures in, was really biting off more than I was prepared to chew. And because of the way the book is structured, it isn’t really something where it’s easy to just toss the tracks down in front of the train as it goes.
So, I kinda bobbled a bit at first. I spent several weeks grinding my gears on the problem and not really getting anywhere. But I knew if I let it sit too long, the campaign would pass its expiration date. So I transposed Triboar in the Forgotten Realms to Three Roads, its Silver Coast analog, and ran the giants’ assault on the town pretty much as written in the book just to get the game moving again. After a big hairy fight against orcs riding axe-beaks and a lot of what-the-helling at fire giants pulling an enormous adamantine staple out of the ground under the town fountain, the players decided to go visit a local wizard named Kolstaag Albrek to see if he could give them any insights before they chased the giants down– only to have Albrek knock them all out and toss them into a dungeon, the jerk.
Second, Inkblitz decided that his purrsian bard Miskan just wasn’t doing it for him, and so he came up with another character, a talking griffon named Swiftstorm, using the “Totally Not My Little Pony” races from Ponyfinder. Swiftstorm’s backstory was that she was a guardsman in far-off Kithria who got polymorphed by an evil wizard and has been wandering the world ever since looking for a way to reverse it… or learning to live with it. I decided that Swiftstorm had wandered too close to Kolstaag Albrek’s gargoyles, who’d sucker-punched her and she ended up down in the dungeons too. (Miskan had officially wandered off from the group between the last Keep On the Borderlands session and the first Storm King’s Thunder session, so we didn’t need to worry about phasing him out.)
In SKT as written, the wizard “Hyuth Kolstaag” gets a total of four paragraphs, being described as an arrogant neutral evil mage who is kind of a trouble magnet, and keeps gargoyles as sentries much to the annoyance of his neighbors. I decided that if the PCs were going to see this dink, I was going to make him important to the story, so I had him secretly working for the drow with orders to round up any and all interesting things related to giants, hence his capture of the PCs.
This left me with something of a problem, as the book didn’t provide any good material for such a contingency. Far from just picking it up off the shelf and running with it, I was now forced to create my own material, so I tossed together a Five Room Dungeon (one of the most brilliant DMing concepts of the past decade) for Kolstaag’s prison and rolled up a few random encounters to put in it. One of those encounters was “ghost,” but I have always been of the firm opinion that you don’t just randomly toss a ghost into a dungeon without figuring out why it’s there first.
Grabbing the phrase “the giant-slayer sword of Harthos Zymorven” from one of the quests actually in the book, and keeping in mind that this dungeon was, in fact, a literal dungeon, I decided that the ghost was a fallen paladin who’d been on a quest to find said sword and restore his paladinhood, only to fall victim to Kolstaag’s machinations, and then get an overdose of sleeping draught and die in his cell– and that said ghost would try to possess Togar to finish off his quest. I also decided that, to tie things back into the giant theme even more, that the cells would be guarded by a stone giant who ended up working for Kolstaag more or less by accident and had no real affinity for him.
These two seeds turned out to be the defining factors of the game. Once I embraced the idea that SKT was a campaign kit and not an off-the-shelf adventure, thirty years of DMing instincts took hold and I was suddenly on fire! But how the party escaped the dungeon and what they did next, will have to wait for the next installment.